Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What So Proudly We Screeched

Ah, yes. Super Bowl week. That seven-day period when the hype reaches
warp speed, when the media swarm descends on everyone from tackles
and tailbacks to towel boys, ankle tapers and under assistant
equipment managers.

It’s the only time when you’ll hear the complete life story of the
back-up long snapper. Everybody’s fair game during Super Bowl week.

The steady drumbeat of analysis and adulation is followed by a game
which, more often than not, becomes a yawn inducing play-not-to-lose

Go easy on the beer and bean dip. You might sleep through the whole

For me, the real edge-of-seat excitement comes during the singing of
the national anthem. Will it be a moving tribute to the land of the
free or an embarrassing flop by a performer whose marquee value
exceeds his or her talent?

Just this past week, for example, we saw both extremes.

Before the Baltimore-New England Game, the anthem was attempted by
Steven Tyler, the legendary rock singer who fronted Aerosmith. He
sounded like a screech owl in heat.

Meaning no disrespect. Mr. Tyler made his name singing the likes of
“Dude Looks Like a Lady” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.” Nobody every
mistook him for Pavarotti. Asking him to tackle the National Anthem,
a work that could bring an Irish tenor to tears, is an invitation to
disaster. Which is exactly what we got.

For a guy who judges talent on “American Idol,” he should know better
and offer to recite the Pledge of Allegiance instead. Judge not lest
ye be judged, as the good book says.

On the other side of the country, actress and Broadway performer
Kristin Chenoweth offered a stirring and heartfelt version of the
National Anthem before the 49ers-Giants game while singing in the
pouring rain. It was grace under pressure.

The next person or persons who hire Steven Tyler to sing the anthem
should be arrested on charges of felony bad taste. Because this is
not his first foray into failure.

He famously butchered it in 2001 at the Indy 500, first by kicking it
off with a blues harmonica solo, then forgetting some of the lyrics
and concluding by changing “home of the brave” to “home of the
Indianapolis 500.” I’m surprised he got out of town alive.

Later, an Indiana state legislator proposed a bill that would set
specific "performance standards" for singing and playing “The
Star-Spangled Banner” and fine those who fail to meet the standards.

So who started this whole free-form interpretation of the anthem? Why
are subjected to versions that sound like they were conceived in a
blues bar at 2 a.m.?

Do a little research on the Internet and the blame seems to fall
squarely at the feet of popular singer/guitarist Jose Feliciano. His
version before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series between Detroit and
St. Louis shocked the crowd. Worse, it started a trend.

It was the 60s, after all, not a good time for traditionalism.

That begat Jimi Hendrix who did an instrumental version in 1968 that
actually got air play. Which begat Marvin Gaye whose soul version
before the 1983 NBA All-Star game became popular.

Then, there were the lowlights. Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis in
1993 performed a version that was so bad, he apologized in the middle
of the song. Christina Aguilera’s version at a Super Bowl was
pretentious and bizarre ("What so proudly we watched at the
twilight's last reaming." ) Michael Bolton forgot the lyrics half way
through his version even though he had them written on his hand. Kat
DeLuna got booed out of Texas stadium after her rendition.

But the hands-down worst version ever was by Roseanne Barr before a
San Diego Padres baseball game. After screeching and grunting through
the song, she finished by grabbing her crotch and spitting as the
boos rained down on her. Who in the world thought this would be a
good idea?

(For the record, I listened and watched each and every one of these
performances on You Tube. It was a four aspirin experience).

The gold standard is Whitney Houston’s flawless and mostly
traditional anthem before a Super Bowl game in 1991 that became so
popular it was released as a single and made the Billboard Top 100.
Once you’ve heard it, you’ll want to enlist.

Next Sunday, the anthem will be sung by Kelly Clarkson, an “American
Idol” winner who had a recent hit entitled “My Life Would Suck
Without You.”

Stay tuned.

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